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Interviewing for remote work competencies…communication

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My previous blog focused on the #1 competency revealed in our research regarding competencies for success as a remote worker…COMMUNICATION. In it we discussed how an individual can grow and develop this competency to improve their effectiveness in the remote industry.

This blog, part b, turns our attention to the individuals hiring remote workers. Knowing the competencies for success, it stands to reason that interview questions should be posed to determine if a candidate does indeed possess the specific competencies. This line of questioning takes the form of behavioural questions, based on the premise that past behaviour is an indication of future performance. While this is not a guarantee for successful hiring, it does help the interviewer gain insight into how candidates have handled relevant situations in past work, or volunteer, experiences.

Ideally, answers will provide insight into the following:
• Situation/Problem faced
• Action (what they did, how they did it)
• *Result/outcome (what was the outcome of the action taken, and was it positive or negative)

*It is worth noting that a candidate who is honest about their mistakes demonstrates a level of teachability, self-awareness, and an openness to learn from such outcomes. Sadly, some hiring managers reject candidates whose answers reflect anything less than perfection; on the flip side, some candidates refuse to share anything that may hint at weakness or vulnerability.

The following questions can serve as a foundation to determine if a candidate for remote work can demonstrate competency in the area of communication. That is, do they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in a remote role when it comes to effective written and oral communication. As well, do they have the ability to choose appropriate channels and tools to deliver/receive the message?

Each question can serve as the foundation for deeper dives into the communication discussion, based on the particular role or context you are hiring for.

Written:
1. Tell me about a time when you were called on to explain a complex concept to someone for whom the concept was new, using only a written format. (Looking for examples of how a candidate took a complex concept and broke it down to its most simple form, without leaving out essential components, and without the benefit of verbal or non-verbal cues.)
2. Tell me about a time when you were required to document the content of a virtual meeting for distribution to those who had been on the call, and those not in attendance. (Looking for examples of how the candidate delivered concise messaging that filtered out the non-essential content, while provided essential information to both attendees and non-attendees.)
3. Tell me about a complex writing report you recently had to prepare.
(Looking for examples of how the candidate is able to clearly express ideas in writing. Look for evidence of gather, organize and presenting information in a logical, concise manner.)

Oral:
1. Tell me about a recent spoken conversation you were part of that was both effective and satisfying. What made it so? (Looking for the candidates ability to clearly articulate what thy believe to be an effective and satisfying conversation.)
2. Tell me about a time when you were called on to do a presentation on your area of expertise, with very little notice. (Looking for evidence of presentation confidence and the ability to construct an oral presentation in a manner that clearly articulated the message with minimum preparation.)
3. Describe a difficult conversation you recently had with someone who challenged your approach to a certain situation regarding something you were passionate about. What was the outcome? (Looking for an example of active listening combined with the use of oral persuasion.)

Channel & Tools:
1. Tell me about a time when you intentionally chose to communicate a particular message face to face (either virtually or in person) vs written format (i.e. email). Why did you choose this specific method of communication? (Looking for examples of the criteria used to determine the best form or channel of communication for a specific context or message.)
2. What is your favourite text based tool for virtual communication? What do you like most about it? (Looking for evidence of familiarity with virtual communication tools, and reasons for using the tool.)
3. Tell me about the communication tools used in a recent virtual meeting. How did they contribute to or distract from the success of the meeting? (Looking for examples of engagement in virtual meetings and interaction with various meeting platforms.)

Next time we will examine the second most important competency reported on by remote workers…being self-directed or self-motivated.

Remote work: competencies and motivation

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This is my shortest blog ever…but it comes with a big report!

Over the past year I have researching what makes remote workers successful. I’m happy to have been able to collaborate with my son, @natesawatzky in the research. Both Nathan and I are so thankful for the many who let us dig into their lives as remote workers.

Today, I’m excited to share a version of the report that has been created to benefit managers, remote workers, and leaders alike. You can download the report here.

Please feel free to reach out to either Nathan or myself (Roberta) if you have any

Following interviews at The Hague

questions about the report, or simply want to talk more about remote work.

 

Why think of competencies when hiring for remote work?

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Coworking in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Knowing the right competencies to hire for is so important no matter the context, but I would suggest knowing the right competencies are even more vital when it comes to hiring for, or transitioning to, remote positions. To be clear, when I say remote positions, I mean those positions or jobs that don’t require the worker to be at a centralized location on a regular basis. This is the focus of my current research.

 

Note: this the final weekend for tech remote workers to complete a survey discussing their views of what competencies are needed for success (if that’s you, please click here to complete the survey).

So, why are competencies important, and how many competencies should organizations choose to focus on when hiring?

First of, what is a competency? Human Resource Systems Group explains…

“…competencies describe the observable abilities, skills, knowledge, motivation, and traits, articulated in terms of the behaviours needed for successful job performance.”

The key here is that we can actually see people demonstrating competencies (vs character traits).

As outlined in this video, skills focus on WHAT is done, competencies focuses on HOW something is done. In other words, I may be a skilled IT person, but if I don’t know how to listen effectively to the customer, I may not be successful in the role as an IT Customer Support Representative. Determining the key competencies helps HR and hiring managers think beyond the job skills necessary, to the effective implementation of those skills…the result being successful performance of a job.

What about how many competencies are realistic to focus on? From an HR professional’s perspective, I would suggest no more than 5 core competencies. Why? Well, you want to ask behavioural questions that do a deep dive to ascertain if the

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New Spaces in Vancouver, Canada

candidate is adequately proficient in each competency, so any more than that would be insurmountable in a recruitment and selection process. On the flip side…if you are the remote worker wanting to ‘sell’ your ability to deliver on those same competencies the first place to start is in your resume. This blog may help describe what I mean.

 

As you listened to my interview with @yonder.io, you will heard Jeff Robbins and I discuss 11 competencies that are relevant to remote work…and each is very important. However, the full story has not yet been told. When the results of the survey are added to our learning from one on one interviews, we will narrow that list to the top 5 or 6 competencies that remote workers (RW), deem to be most important. After all, they are the ones doing the work, making RWs our subject matter experts! (If that’s you, you get why I ask you to complete the survey if you have not yet done so.)

Coming soon… the next couple of blogs will unpack the data gathered from this discovery process that took us to various locations in Canada and Europe over the past few months…

 

 

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Helsinki, Finland

 

Industry ‘vs’ Academia?

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J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had great dialogue here.

A tension that should never exist!

Those of you who have been following my blog know that I am a business professor at Okanagan School of Business doing research on remote work. You may also know that I am a coach/consultant who focuses on all things people development, and have a clear passion for those working remotely, or managing remote teams.
From my perspective, the conversation should not be industry vs academia, but rather ‘how can industry learn from academia, and how can academia learn from industry?’ It’s a new face to the age old ‘experience vs education’…each has incredible value on its own, but when the two are combined the outcomes are incredible.

What I find frustrating is that conversations are still happening that pit one against the other. Some say that academia is where invention and innovation happens, while other feel that academia is archaic and that new thinking happens in the ‘real world’ by people actually working in the field.

I came across this article that reported those interviewed “…don’t pay much attention to the publications about fundamental discoveries by universities because they don’t trust them.” Ouch!
Another article representing the flip side states that people don’t trust scientific research when companies are involved because of the propensity for bias. Ouch again!

While I respect the opinion of these perspectives, I tend to believe the best learning lives in the coming together of both sides, each doing their part. I appreciate the sentiment expressed by Martha Crago, VP of Research and Innovation at McGill University.

In addition, like any good partnership, industrial research partnerships need to be based on recognizing the value of the partnership, on trust, and on the ability to meet the other’s needs.

As we move through this project of learning about what makes remote workers great, I am thrilled to be collaborating with both academia and industry. Nathan Sawatzky has been working with me from day one on the research, and Rodrigo Bruno, a student at Okanagan School of Business, has recently joined as a research assistant. Both of these individuals bring immense insight from industry, and as Rodrigo digs into the academic research side of things, he is able to filter it through his own experiences and those he has worked with in remote settings.

Academia and industry collaborating for the purpose of bringing clarity and support to those working in a new era of work. I love it!

Competencies and remote work…

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1D9EE45D-559C-4455-B0B5-009B78912423Before taking a break for holidays, I want to post one final blog regarding remote work (I’ll continue to post again in September).      A student asked me today for clarity around competencies…a valid question. How do you differentiate basic skill know-how, from a competency? This is important to clarify as we consider those key to remote work. I like this definition from University of Nottingham…

Competencies are abilities or attributes, described in terms of behaviour, key to effective and/or highly effective performance within a particular job.

A competency goes beyond knowing the technical aspect of a task. For example…I may know how to sell a good pair of shoes and what information to provide the customer (i.e. proper fit, potential for stretching, proper care…)…easily learned. 0DB82C05-1FC4-44D5-B74B-0F89746741BAHowever, that doesn’t mean I know how to sell a pair of shoes in such a way that a loyalty and ‘relationship’ has been seeded with the customer. Do I discover why the shoe is being purchased? Did I learn anything about the customer and his/her likes and dislikes? Have I created a shoe shopping experience for the customer that they will come back for, AND tell their friends about? We are talking about behaviour here…what kind of behaviour would you be able to observe as I served the customer? Perhaps excellent customer service? Perhaps some level of empathy? Those behaviours are what we call competencies.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had such experiences in 3 shoe stores…one even served cappuccino, and the other wine! @shoeembassy (Brighton, England) @strut (Kelowna, BC) and @ladifferenciate (Vancouver, BC)

In preparation for further work on this research in the autumn, we will be sending surveys to remote workers, specifically those in the tech industry, to get their feedback on the accuracy of the competencies we’ve identified. (If you’re interested I’d be happy to send you a survey to complete…rsawatzky@okanagan.bc.ca) Knowing that different aspects of tech remote work may place different values on each, we want to end up with a list of 5-7 top core competencies that truly reflect the worker in their respective areas.

Here’s a summary of what we have learned so far, and want to narrow down.

  • Self-directed (making your own decisions and organizing your own work)
  • Disciplined (showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working)
  • High Self-efficacy (high belief in your own capabilities to produce quality outcomes)
  • Trustworthy (able to be relied on as honest or truthful)
  • Empathetic (showing an ability to share the feelings of another)
  • Adaptable (able to adjust to new conditions)
  • Curious (eager to know or learn something)
  • Flexible (ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances)
  • Taking initiative (an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something.)
  • Self-motivated (motivated to do or achieve something because of one’s own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.)
  • Focus (concentrating attention on the most urgent problems)

I agree that many of these are simply good competencies to possess in any work context, however, I would suggest that the level of proficiency needed for remote workers in each area is higher…their very success depends on it!

Next steps? 1. Survey. 2. Based on results, narrow the competency list. 3. Create specific behavioural questions a manager can ask to determine if the person they want to hire fits the criteria for success as a remote worker. Or…an individual could reflect on if they are considering remote worker.

For now, happy summer…see you in September!

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Mental Health in the Workplace is everybody’s issue.

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I was asked by a friend to write something that normally would not have been a topic of choice, an area that feels very exposing. However, if I truly believe in integrity and transparency, I need to pull open the blinds of a challenge shared by many.

Time to take off the masks.
Time to take off the masks.

It all starts with volunteering… something I believe strongly in, not out of a sense of duty, but because I want to, and I know how rewarding it can be when you find the right fit.

The cause I am currently engaged with is the Canadian Mental Health Association; I believe in the work CMHA does, I can relate to the issues they deal with, and the folks at our local association deeply care about what they do, and who they do it with.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘mental health’? Does it make you cringe? Is it something that only affects ‘other’ people? Or does it stir up feelings that are all too real…too close to home. You’re not alone! The specific area that I’m engaged with is mental health in the workplace, an issue that is very real to employers and employees alike. Did you know that everyday in Canada; over 500,000 people miss work due to mental health issues? That’s huge! Think of the impact those absentees have on the individual, their families, their co-workers, their organizations! And yes, the cost to business is in the neighbourhood of $33 billion each year. Take a read through this sobering Maclean’s article. These are people we rub shoulders with on a daily basis…and many of us are one of those people.

It doesn’t matter what you call it; stress, anxiety, burn-out…it’s the pile up of demands (personal, professional), expectations (others and our own), deadlines, conflicts, pressures that get us to the point of _______ … you finish the sentence. For me it looks like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an inability to make even the simplest of decisions.

As a training and development professional and business professor, I speak with many people who feel like an elastic band that’s about to snap; these people are from a variety of industries, representing all generations, are male and female, formally educated (or not), experienced, and capable individuals. CEO’s, leaders, and managers be aware, these are the people who are the very core and life of your organizations…many are even sitting beside you in the boardroom.

CMHA’s Mental Health Voices represents the need for greater awareness to be brought to such matters in the workplace. If you are in a role of people leadership or run a business, this is a cause that begs your attention. If you live in the Okanagan, BC, I would invite you to attend our Mental Health Voices breakfast with Brett Wilson on November 4th. Check out the website www.cmhakelowna.com/mental-health-voices for both information on the event and ticket purchase.

No matter your location, I would invite you to take some time to think through how your place of business could be proactive about this growing area of concern and join the growing crowd of business leaders who are endeavouring to take the stigma out of the mental health issue.

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Expectations or expectancy?

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Rodin's 'The Thinker'
Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’

  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations; we all have them. We all know the joys of realized    expectations and, I believe, it would be accurate to say that we have all felt the pain of unrealized  expectations. And yet we continue to approach life with the assumption of certain outcomes. What if instead of having expectations, we adopted an attitude of expectancy?

One of my favourite authors is Mark Buchanan (favourite because he really causes me to stop and ponder!). In his book “The Four Best Places to Live”, Mark describes expectancy this way…

 “Expectancy is a renewal of hope and anticipation. It is a spark in the soul that makes you dare  to believe that good can come from bad, that light can overcome darkness, that life can resurrect out of death.”

He goes on to say…

“It’s the small but tenacious belief that, in spite of all that has happened in your life and all that has not happened in your life, what is going to happen in your life will redeem it all.”

My oldest granddaughter is a true example of living life with expectancy. Faith’s signature question is ‘What are you excited about today?’ I love it! The anticipation of what’s to come radiates from every part of her being. Our

Shannon & Faith
Shannon & Faith (HB lemon curd pies baked by Faith)

daughter is also one of those people who loves life and values each and every person who is part of her life. We celebrated her 30th birthday this week (I should say month…Shannon really knows how to embrace any and every reason to celebrate!). We had a lovely chat about what life holds for her as she enters her 30’s; so many amazing possibilities! She could go forward with a list of expectations that may or may not be realized, but instead she chooses to go forward with great expectancy, with a sense of wonder and excitement about what great surprises life holds.

So how does this play out in daily living? For me it applies on so many levels…I think of a whole new group of students who will occupy chairs in my classes this fall, I think of the students on-line that I get to tutor, of those individuals whose lives intersect with mine on a professional level. I also think of the many friends who make up the fabric of my life, and of the incredible family my husband and I have been blessed with. I could go on! 

Buchanan states that the opposite of expectancy is expectations; so yes, I must admit that the above list of people at times are burdened by my unreasonable expectations.  Time to make a change there!

What will the new fall expectancy approach look like? Refreshing, hopeful, appreciation, excitement, letting go. Let me finish with another nugget from Buchanan…

“Expectation almost always sets us up to be disappointed, and once disappointment sets in, it quickly hardens into apathy, bitterness, and suspicion. Expectancy, on the other hand, sets us up to be thrilled. When we live in an attitude of expectancy, we’re rarely disappointed. Expectation says, “This specific thing must happen for me to welcome it.” But when we live in the House of Expectancy, we say, “Something good is going to happen—I’m not sure what—and I’m here to welcome it.”

Ready to set sail with an expectancy outlook?

   

  

Are teachers also leaders?

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What’s your favorite question to ask? For me it’s why? That’s it. It’s been the same question just about all of my life.

I find that it brings the greatest critical thinking challenges to me as I continue to work in the field of training and development. For most of my growing up years people told me what to do, I’m sure your experience was similar… we get an education and are advised what to take, then we start a career and learn the job with new rules and processes…sadly, asking why isn’t always encouraged!

This was the case until I was finally asked the question WHY DO YOU DO YOU WHAT YOU DO? What’s your purpose on this earth? Someone finally turned the table on me!

Let me ask you, have you ever written a personal mission statement? It asks the why of your life. I was at a leadership staff retreat a number of years ago when I was asked what my personal mission was …not only had no one ever asked me such a big why question…I had no answer for them. Thus started a grueling exercise of discover…and decision! The end result was…

 I want to be about equipping and encouraging others to realize their full potential.

This guided my thinking and actions in every leadership role I took on.

Over the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between being a leader and being a teacher. I tend to believe that not only are they connected, but being one compels us to also be the other. So if this is true…we need to consider what kind of leader-teachers we should be.

Take a few minutes to consider this connection and perhaps open the door to look at teaching…and our post-secondary classrooms, from another perspective.

John Kotters describes leadership this way…

“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.”

 Can we see a connection to teaching?

 Learner centred teaching is all about putting the focus on what the learner needs in order for them to be successful. Consider how similar this is to servant leadership:

 “Putting the needs, interests and goals of others above your own and using your personal gifts to help others achieve their potential.”

 Is there a connection here to teaching?

 Our purpose should be to do all we can to help our students be successful.

Let’s assume that we are on the right track here. We all know that learning looks different for each student…the variables are endless.

So flashing back to leadership, what we are discussing is the type of leadership made popular by Blanchard and Hersey…Situational leadership. We know that this is a contingency approach that basically means IT DEPENDS. It depends on the readiness of the follower…the leader adapts his/her leadership style based on the needs of the person being lead.

  • Telling– Leaders tell their people what to do and how to do it.
  • Selling– Leaders provide information and direction, but there’s more communication with followers.
  • Participating – Leaders focus more on the relationship and less on direction. Decision making is shared with followers.
  • Delegating – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_44.htm

 Can we connect these styles or stages to teaching?

 Let me ask one final question…Can you view yourself as a leader in the classroom? If so, what kind of leader do you want to be?

In preparing to teach a leadership class recently, I came across this question:

 If it is immoral to prevent those around you from growing to their fullest potential, are you being moral?

In other words, as a leader/teacher, am I doing all I can to help those around me to grow to their fullest potential? Hmmm!

Potential, Persuasion & Leadership

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Right now I’m sitting in a new little restaurant in Kelowna called Gratitude. Recently opened, it’s claim to fame is a menu that is gluten free, vegan, and safe for most allergies. Limited…but oh so tasty! I feel healthier just sitting here. My order…spicy root veggie soup and a toasted carrot bun with coconut butter. Very delicious.

When the server/owner delivered it to me, the salutation, ‘you are lovely and awesome’ was declared. That took me a little aback…to my shame, the first thought that came to mind was ‘now that’s a little phony…they probably say that to everyone.’ But then I thought, ‘so what if they do, how many people never get to hear those sentiments from anyone?’ Yup, slapped my own hand for that one.

So how does this connect with potential? Glad you asked. Let me guide you through my thought process. One of the courses I’m teaching this semester to third year business students is Leadership; I’m very excited to be working with these future leaders! In the first class we discussed the concept of leadership and explored the experiences of each person…interesting and often inspiring. One of the resources we included in the course pack is a Harvard Business Review called ‘Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’ by Robert B. Cialdini. The article summary states,

“No leader can succeed without mastering the art of persuasion. But there’s hard science in that skill, too, and a large body of psychological research suggests there are six basic laws of winning friends and influencing people.”

The article is adamant that this persuasion must be done in an ethical manner, and that mastery of the 6 Principles outlined can bring ‘scientific rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals, and winning concessions.’

In class we watched a YouTube version of the article, and then spent time discussing it.

What we summarized from the discussion is that leaders need to setthe stage and create a reason for why people should follow them. The obvious danger is the ease with which a leader could cross over the line into manipulation…one good reason why the article stresses the need for ethical action and behaviour.

So, back to potential. I can see potential in my students, or in those I have been privileged to mentor, but if there isn’t a connection, if they don’t like me, they are less likely to give any credence to any suggestions I may offer for their growth and development. The same thing applies to any group of people or team you may lead…do they see evidence of the 6 principles demonstrated through your actions? Do you make it easy for them to follow you, or do you create barriers that in the long run will limit the positive influence you could have in their professional and personal lives?

While I initially felt like the greeting I received with lunch was phony, it did make me stop and think. If she really did know me would those be the words she would use to describe me; if not, would she maybe see the potential in me to come along side and help me grow into a person worthy of such a greeting?

Potential: She found her voice!

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Have you ever witnessed someone realizing their potential? It is so exciting! Let me share an experience with you.

Boot Potential! Created by James L. Hayes, Lake Country, BC
Boot Potential! Created by James L. Hayes, Lake Country, BC

I had a student in one of my classes a couple of years ago. She was an exchange student from Asia and was totally overwhelmed with the whole Canadian education experience. Susan, (not her real name of course), was in her early twenties and had never been more than a few kilometres from home before this adventure.

Susan missed the first couple classes, so was already behind before she even started. After her first class I noticed Susan hovering at her desk, taking much longer than necessary to pack up her knapsack…she obviously had something on her mind. I approached and asked how the first class had gone for her. In very broken English, she shared some of the challenges she was experiencing with the language barrier, and wanted to check that I was ok with her using a digital translator. She didn’t want me to think that she was cheating in any way. Once that was talked through I thought we were done…not so. Susan went on to share how shy she was, and that she wasn’t comfortable talking in class, or offering her opinion on anything. In fact, she went on to say that she really didn’t have anything worth sharing anyway. Needless to say my heart went out to her.

Again, Susan didn’t seem to be in a rush to leave, so I decided to put my briefcase down and take a few minutes with this young woman. One of the things I like to do with my students is to ask them to identify their own goals for learning; so I asked Susan. Her answer was so honest…and frightful for her! Her goal was to voluntarily answer one question in class before the end of the term! That’s it, and even voicing it seemed like such a challenge. I assured Susan that I would not pick on her to answer a question that she did not raise her hand for, and that I would watch for her to indicate when she was ready. Susan finally left the classroom looking like a weight had been lifted off her small shoulders.

The next class we were talking about the diversity of cultures in organizations, and the joys and challenges that brings. For one of the activities I invited students to share something unique about their own culture, and describe a little bit about how that uniqueness would impact the workplace. After several students shared I noticed that Susan had raised her hand. Her expression told me that she wanted to take the big step…she was ready…already!

What happened next blew me away. Susan talked for a good three minutes, sharing what life was like in her home country, and how that experience influenced her confidence, or rather lack of confidence, in this brand-new world. She was nervous, but received incredible support from her peers as they listened intently to every word; it was a beautiful thing to witness.

When Susan finished she simply sat down. At the end of class she came up to me, as excited as any child on Christmas morning. The only words she could express were ‘I did it, I did it!’ After the initial exuberance had died down she added ‘And it’s only the beginning of the semester! I reached my goal already.’ Those are the moments that affirm why I love my job!

That day was the first of many with Susan speaking out in class; she even participated in an oral class presentation. When the semester ended, successfully for Susan I might add, I saw a very different young woman leave with determination and intention to return to her home country and encourage other young Asian women to find their voice. Someday I hope to meet up with Susan and hear about the next step in her story.

Helping someone realize their potential does not have to be a major undertaking. At times it’s as simple as being available to listen, and to pay attention to what’s not being said.

Who are the people in your life that just need a listening ear or an encouraging word to move them towards realizing their potential? Look around, they may even be in the room with you right now.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia